After passing on him in 2005 and 2012, Yankees counting on Beltran to lead offense in 2014

Michael Pineda and early spring optimism
Video: Derek Jeter's Retirement Announcement Press Conference
(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Three offseasons ago, just weeks after winning the World Series, the Cardinals let Albert Pujols walk as a free agent. They made a substantial offer but reportedly held the line at five years, so it was no surprise that he left when another club blew that offer out of the water. The Cardinals wanted Pujols back but on their terms and their terms only.

This past offseason, just weeks after missing the postseason for only the second time in the last 19 years, the Yankees let Robinson Cano walk as a free agent. Like St. Louis with Pujols, the Yankees made Cano a substantial offer but held firm, topping out at seven years and $175 million. When another team blew that offer out of the water, Robbie was gone. New York wanted him back, but again, only on their terms.

The Cardinals’ situation with Pujols and the Yankees’ situation with Cano were very similar and in more ways than the ones I just laid out. Not only did the two teams hold a hard line during talks with their homegrown star, but when that homegrown star left, both clubs turned to the same player to replace the lost offense: Carlos Beltran. St. Louis signed Beltran soon after Pujols left and plopped him in the middle of their order. The Yankees signed Beltran hours after Cano left and are counting on him to anchor their rebuilt lineup.

Beltran, who will turn 37 in April, is certainly no stranger to New York. He spent parts of seven seasons across town with the Mets and he has flirted with the Yankees on numerous occasions. Beltran famously offered to sign with the Bombers at a discount during the 2004-05 offseason, and he also gave them a chance to match the Cardinals’ offer three winters ago. The Yankees passed both times but decided now, with his best years almost certainly in the past, was the time to bring him. Cano’s departure was a big reason why.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

With Brian McCann, the Yankees addressed a very specific short and long-term need behind the plate. Jacoby Ellsbury was signed mostly because he was the best non-Cano free agent on the market, but he gives the team a dynamic leadoff hitter who has been through the AL East wars and knows all about playing in a huge market. Beltran is sorta like a combination of the two. He’s a middle of the order bat like McCann but he’s also familiar with playing in an intense market with big expectations.

At the same time, Beltran is nearing the end of his career, so it’s tough to know exactly what to expect at this point. His defense has already declined to the point where he needs a late-inning replacement and his production against lefties has slipped as well, so these next three years will be interesting. I’ve said before that the signing gives me a Randy Johnson vibe, that the Yankees acquired the right player only nine years too late. I really hope that isn’t the case and considering how much money they sunk into him, the team is confident Beltran will remain a very good hitter for another few seasons.

“I look at the team, I look at our situation, the players we have and we have a pretty good chance,” said Beltran to Dan Martin yesterday. “Last year, I experienced being in the World Series with the Cardinals and it was a great feeling. Once you play there, you want to go there every year … Hopefully we can help this team win a championship. I know [Derek Jeter] has a lot of championships, but I don’t have [any]. Hopefully, I can win one.”

During his two years with the Cardinals, Beltran essentially matched Pujols’ offensive output with the Halos (128 vs. 130 OPS+) while doing a better job of staying on the field (296 vs. 252 games). I would be very surprised if Beltran hits anything like Cano these next few years, nevermind play a similar number of games. The Yankees don’t need him to do that though. They improved several lineup spots this winter and should have a deeper lineup overall. Beltran doesn’t have to be The Man for New York the way Cano was, but he does replace him as the team’s best all-around hitter and likely number three hitter. That’s a role Beltran is very familiar with.

Michael Pineda and early spring optimism
Video: Derek Jeter's Retirement Announcement Press Conference
  • Matt :: Sec110


  • dkidd

    it’s refreshing to see a player who is NOT in “the best shape of his life”

  • TWTR

    If Beltran’s bat does decline, we can hope that at least one of Austin/Heathcott/Williams can help to offset it.

    But yeah, three years for a 37 year old is worrisome.

    • Havok9120

      It is, but I understand why they did it. It’s those first two years that are key. If the third year is what’s needed to secure the player, and he provides a somewhat reduced version of his previous production in the first two years, I’m alright with the deal.

      I may be willing to apply the same logic to Drew. I’ve not yet decided.

  • mitch

    I think Beltran has 3 solid years left in him. With Jeter retiring and Arod most likely out of the picture, he’ll be able to slide into the DH spot on a regular basis in 2015. That should help him stay healthy and productive.

    • I’m One

      I hope so. At $15M/year, they’ll need good production from him all 3 years. He needs to stay healthy and hope that Long can keep him hitting.

      • TWTR

        Is there any data that suggests that hitting coach can have that kind of effect? Or maybe I am just missing the sarcasm.

        • jjyank

          I don’t have any data, but I don’t think it’s completely irrational to hope a hitting coach can help a player adjust for something like lost bat speed.

          Whether or not it will happen is another matter entirely, but I don’t think he was being sarcastic.

          • TWTR

            OK, that’s fair. I’m skeptical that coaches can make more than a marginal difference with veterans.

            • I’m One

              That’s a generalization. It depends on the individuals involved.

              • TWTR

                Again, if there are any studies that show that hitting coaches have made that kind of sustained impact, I would like to see it.

                On the anecdotal level, take Granderson. Long’s supposed reworking of his approach really only paid dividends for one season.

                • I’m One

                  And we saw that Jeter’s preference was to work with Gary Denbo. That doesn’t mean Long can’t help Beltran. I have no anecdotal evidence that he can or can’t. My comment was that I hoped he could help, not that evidence supported that he could. Hitting coaches improving results seems to be an individual thing. Denbo helped Jeter. Maybe Long can help Beltran.

                • Havok9120

                  The only other example than Jeter and Granderson I can offer is ARod. Dude looked like he couldn’t hit any kind of inside pitch, but then he turned something around to keep his average up with reduced power.

                  Again, purely anecdotal.

          • I’m One

            Correct. I have no idea if Long can assist or not, but it is Long’s job to work with hitters. I’m just hoping whatever he does has a positive effect as much as possible.

  • Steve_Balboni

    Mitch is right on, Beltran has permanent DH written all over him after this year. Hopefully the Yanks can find a few more (younger) new toys next off season to make the team even better and then Beltran’s role will be diminished to just a solid DH.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Definitely not permanent, but probably the majority at DH. He’ll still be fully capable of spelling the regular OFers, whoever they are the next 2 years.

      • jjyank

        Agreed. I think in 2015 he’ll slip into the 2012 Ibanez role. Or at least, the role Ibanez was supposed to play in 2012. Mostly DH, but capable of still going out onto the field to rest somebody or in a pinch if someone gets hurt. Hopefully such a role can keep him reasonably healthy.

  • Chien Ming The Merciless

    Hate to bring up old wounds but can someone explain why the Yankees skipped on him twice? Did one have to do with Randy Johnson?

    • The Great Gonzo

      One had to do with knees, IIRC… The other? I got nothing

    • Ed

      Yeah, the first time around it was a payroll limit issue. They decided they preferred Randy Johnson over Beltran.

      Second time around was because he had recently had knee surgery, and had missed a lot of time in the last few seasons.

      • Mick taylor

        Last time they decided to exercise option on swisher instead, dumb move.

  • Darren

    I don’t think this has the same vibe as the Randy Johnson deal. The Johnson trade seemed doomed from the start for several reasons, not the least of which he seemed like he was never going to be comfortable in NYC. But maybe also because the expectations were probably (foolishly) higher – people wanted him to be an ace and that train had already long sailed. With Beltran, we’d all be happy if he stayed healthy and produced numbers like Nick Swisher (remember him?). He doesn’t have to carry the team.

    The other reason it’s different is that Randy Johnson can eat a giant knapsack of dicks. And he can feel free to share them with Joey Cora and Tony Womack. True Yankee Fans (TM) will understand.

    • Jonathan

      How on earth had his time as an ace long sailed? He had a freaking 9.5 WAR the year before we acquired him!

    • Ed

      Uhh… Randy Johnson was the runner up in the Cy Young voting the year before. 245.2 IP, 2.60 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 290 Ks. Even threw a perfect game.

      The season before that was bad, but that was due to injury problems. The 4 seasons before that he won the Cy Young every year.

      So basically 5 of the previous 6 seasons, including the most recent one, he was in the discussion for best pitcher in the game.

    • Tanakapalooza Floozy

      My man.

  • 461deep

    Team loses 3 big hitters in 2014 Alex, Grandy, Cano so that is 90-100 HRs a year. New pick-ups Elsbury, Beltran & McCann will be unlikely to match that But YS should yield them 70 if the play a6 full year. 3B-2B-SB stats should increase some to offset less HRs.
    Tex if healthy can hit 30 HRs to close the gap further. I see a contender but still worry that 162 games will wear them down an aging team.

    • Govin

      About the number of home runs we are losing, don’t the Yankees only have to replace the Home runs these three players hit last year to become a better team ? Which means they only have to replace 41 not 100.

      • Jonathan

        Not to mention an entire year of Soriano. That’s a huge help if we’re just talking HRs.

    • dars

      When was the last time ARod hit 30 homers? You don’t win only with homers but rather with timely hitting and speed. Cano was lousy in the clutch (World Series 2009, ALCS 2012 for demonstration), ARod a no-show (except for 2009 when he was on steroids) and Granderson whiffed most times than not. Beltran is Mr. Clutch and so is Ellsbury and McAnn has big hits in his history as well. I think we are a better team with Beltran, Ellsbury and McAnn in 2014 than a team with the current versions of ARod, Cano and Granderson…..

      • Havok9120

        Here I thought Dars was going to break his mold and offer a reasonable line of discussion. Then I read the third sentence.

  • jesse rivera

    They didn’t sign him during his best years, and they expect him to lead the offense now that he’s over the hill? Give me a break!!!

    • Havok9120

      Well, no, they don’t expect him to lead the offense. There’s a bunch of other very capable hitters in the lineup this year, plus several who are potentially very, very good.

      But I’ll bite. What would you have preferred they do?

  • willie w

    seems so foolish to pass on him in his prime and then take his last two years at a crazy high salary.

  • Charles R.

    Sorry for being a bit off-topic but is the Pujols situation back then comparable to the Robbie Cano situation right now? Meaning the team had a set contract in mind and didn’t budge from it. Funny how in both cases, Beltran was used as a back-up plan.